Director Jenny Gage’s newest film “After” might make most viewers run out of the theater. But to a niche group of One Direction fans, this film throws them back to the glory days.
At the height of One Direction’s fame in 2013, Anna Todd published “After,” a Harry Styles fanfiction — fictional literature written by fans of a work — on Wattpad, an online platform for amateur writers to publish stories and other works of writing. Due to the story’s remarkable success on the website, Todd was offered a publishing deal one year later and a film soon followed.
Adapted to the big screen by Susan McMartin (“Mom,” “Two and a Half Men”), “After” brings to life the story of Tessa Young (Josephine Langford), a studious 18-year-old, as she enters another world: college.
Not long after she arrives on campus, Tessa meets Hardin Scott (Hero Fiennes-Tiffin), an irresistible bad boy who soon steals her heart. But they’re not in ideal situations — Tessa has a boyfriend back home and Hardin has a secret and a slight aversion to dating.
During the first week of school, Tessa ventures out to a party with her roommate Steph (Khadijha Red Thunder), who emcompasses everything Tessa isn’t — tattoos, piercings and a love for nightlife. At the party, Tessa plays a game of truth or dare and is dared to kiss Hardin, the brooding boy dressed in all black who has finally decided to take a break from his side piece. While Tessa tries to prove herself to her new friends, she backs down at the last second and leaves the room.
After attempting to avoid each other, a smitten Tessa and surprised Hardin realize their connection is stronger than they thought. The pair take their relationship to the next level — Hardin reveals his family secrets, the pair prematurely move in together and they make frequent midnight memories.
Unlike the emotionally abusive and manipulative Hardin depicted in Todd’s book, the film’s Hardin respects Tessa’s boundaries and allows her to make her own decisions.
In the novel, the two move in together because Hardin is insecure about Tessa’s mostly platonic relationships with his friends. Hardin controls her day-to-day happenings, what classes she takes and who her friends are. In the movie, Hardin isn’t abusive, but rather a boy who’s hurt by the careless actions of his father.
Langford was the perfect actress to play Tessa, despite her short resume. In the original version on Wattpad, Todd cast Indiana Evans (“H2O”) as Tessa, leaving Langford’s casting a pleasant surprise for fans of the novel. Her combination of innocence and confidence makes her the best actress to play this role.
While Fiennes-Tiffin proved himself worthy after his time in the Harry Potter franchise, the film lacked character development for Hardin. Even though Hardin tells Tessa why he’s the way he is, Tessa barely addresses it and the topic is never brought up again.
The cinematography lacked sophistication. There were multiple hard cuts, and the scenes moved too quickly from one to the other and weren’t always tied together well. But to some’s delight, the film’s ending is ambiguous and hints at the possibility of a sequel.
To the average viewer, “After” might seem like an overdone story with poor acting, but to many One Direction fans, this nostalgic piece brings back the days of Wattpad book club and being consumed by the happenings of a young British boy with an incredible voice.
Sprinkled throughout the movie are nods to Harry Styles. Hardin adorns the same Ramones t-shirts, chunky rings and ship tattoo. These small details would go unnoticed by the naked eye, but this is what makes the movie so special to the supporters of the British boy band phenomena.
“After” serves an unexpected narrative while easing the heartbreak of One Direction’s hiatus which is seemingly — and tragically — never-ending.
“After,” rated PG-13, is playing in theaters nationwide.